Boconnoc Knocking on Heaven's Door

Mystics versus Boconnoc at Boconnoc House Deer Park, 2nd August 2022

Benjamin Franklin is universally known as a Founding Father of the United States. As a civic activist, polymath, author, printer, scientist, inventor, diplomat, political theorist, politician, and humorist he could also been a Founding Father of the Mystics and Magicians, had this extraordinary cricketing family not had to wait another 200 years for the planets (and the Thomsons) to align in conceiving it.

In 1789 Franklin famously wrote that 'in this world nothing can be certain except death and taxes'. This opinion could have been shaped by his connection with Cornwall (his maternal grandmother Mary Morrell, was born in Fowey and Franklin himself had embarked and disembarked at Falmouth). He might even have had Lostwithiel in mind. On taxes, Lostwithiel's rise to importance was as a stannary town, responsible for managing the taxation of lucrative tin, sourced in the harshest conditions from the local mines. 'Coinage' was the act of knocking a corner off each tin block for the benefit of the Duchy of Cornwall and the Coinage Hall (with its amusingly small door) stands in the centre of town, forming an historic backdrop to a fine pasty establishment (its products sourced in less harsh conditions than the tin, but no less valuable to hungry travellers and passing Mystics).

As for death, mostly Lostwithiel's encounters with the grim reaper were as calm and natural as the serene natural Cornish surroundings. Only occasionally did something more sinister occur. The first reported murder in the UK of an on-duty policeman (Peace Officer as it was then called) took place there on 21st August 1814 when Sgt Joseph Burnett was shot by a drunken off-duty soldier, a Private Simms. Simms was hanged for his crime in Launceston, and in St Bartholomew's Church you can find the oldest known memorial to a police officer killed in the line of duty. Thankfully, though not the last death in Lostwithiel, this is believed to be last murder to take place there.

Perhaps to Benjamin Franklin's twin eternal certainties should be added a third: cricket. Boconnoc's cricket ground, the Deer Park, on the edge of the town has seen cricket played since 1846, making it the oldest continuously used cricket ground in the Cornwall. Reflect for a moment that there have been no murders reported in the town since people started playing cricket there: surely the greatest incentive to universal participation in our great game.

For the Mystic visitors to the Deer Park some things never change: Kev Spencer's glinting 'Bond Villain' smile to greet us; John Niblett's formidable batting; deer roaming the park; deer droppings on the outfield; the continuously-being-painted cottage on the boundary adorned with scaffold (impossible to say whether the scaffold forms a copy of the Launceston gallows from where Pvt Simms was dispatched in 1815, but perhaps it's designed to serve as a warning against any murderous intent resulting from a crushing defeat or a questionable umpiring decision). Some things never change, but not everything. The access route into the park had changed since my last visit, passing a sign which resolutely, confusingly and wrongly claimed there was no access to the Deer Park this way. And the weather: gone was the damp and misty rain that could normally be trusted to lengthen the boundary and interrupt at least part of the annual fixture. In its place sunshine, blue skies, fluffy clouds, a dry (some might even say electric) outfield. The Mystics briefly struggled to recognise themselves.

Fortunately things were swiftly restored to their natural order. With Boconnoc batting first, the second ball of the innings from Sam found its way smartly to the boundary off Kev's bat, by which act the thirty thousandth run was conceded by the Mystics. Mat (O) had the perfect start to his spell, watching Jim pouch a catch off the third ball to remove Frith for a duck. Spencer saw off both openers with little fuss, but succumbed to Jim's mesmerising slower ball, thereby setting the scene for Niblett and Thomas to build the foundations of the home-team innings. In helping the total past 100, both Graham and Fraser found themselves on the wrong end of some strident hitting, especially from Niblett, but it was finally Sean who broke their stranglehold, deviously removing Thomas by encouraging him to spoon a pie of a ball to me at midwicket.

The Boconnoc charge was briefly slowed by Jim, who accounted for both Neville and Sleep in the middle order (not the first time we've seen Jim's bowling go to Sleep). Suddenly the game was a Foot, though only for a brief while until Foot was run out for 7. Taylor provided the support Niblett needed to push towards his well-deserved hundred, but despite throwing everything (including his bat) at the Mystics, his 95-minute adventure was ended just one hefty blow short by the 1st ball of Sam's 2nd spell.

Ogley returned, calmly cleaning up the tail to end with figures of 3 for 27, and Boconnoc's total was a very healthy 203. Sam's 1 for 24 off 7 overs was parsimonious, Jim's 3 for 34 more sanctimonious.

In time-honoured tradition, an enormous tea was served in the pavilion, with enough left over to satisfy the appetites of all spectators (even those who'd enjoyed the aforementioned Lostwithiel pasties). For the first time on a cricket field Borleys Senior and Junior batted together, dealing with the opening salvos confidently enough, until father showed son exactly the shot not to play to a half-volley when an alert fielder is positioned at mid-off.

Cricket may have been played continuously here since 1846, but Ern was in the middle continuously from 17:21, occupying the crease without fuss or fireworks whilst a 'Who's Who' of Mystic batterati came and went at the other end. Borley Minimus found the boundary a few times in his 17. Chris Squire scored the most elegant and correct single ever seen on a cricket field and then, in recognition of perfection achieved, promptly made way for Fraser. Fraser and Ern applied themselves for the best part of an hour, adding over 50 for the 4th wicket. Fraser was eventually trapped in front of the stumps by Neville for 33, but not before acquiring his 1,000th Mystic run. Ern finally fell for the same score and Sam came in to bat with the likelihood of a Mystics win diminishing.

The tail wagged wholeheartedly as Sam found boundaries (7 in his score of 43 off just 31 balls) and also passed 1,000 career runs. Graham found the one run that was needed to take him to the Mystics milestone of 500 and was duly feted by the enthusiastic supporters, though Boconnoc were slightly bemused that he seemingly got a standing ovation for getting off the mark. Will and Mat Ogley also provided spirited resistance but a deserved win was sealed for Boconnoc when Jim was out LBW charging down the track at Taylor to leave the Mystics stranded on 182 (exactly the same number of runs that Boconnoc scored off the bat in their innings). Thomas was successful with the ball, taking 2 for 16 in his first 5 over spell, and Taylor was the pick of the bowlers with 4 for 24 off 8 overs (and 4 for 14 in his second spell).

As the light faded we shared beer and conversation on the outfield before saying farewell to Cornish friends for another year. There was just enough time for me to lead the Chairman down the wrong track out of the park, which resulted in a humiliating turnaround made all the more disastrous given that Deke had just been handed control of the fines book.

Death, Taxes, Cricket: all are certain but of those three only cricket is looked forward to with relish by the Mystics team. The spectators and supporters, who have now endured 30 years of watching the Mystics in an eternal battle of hope over expectation, would undoubtedly prefer either of the other two.

Adrian Borley

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